Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hawks 2011 offseason

So the dust has now settled, Stan Bowman appears to have made all the major moves he is going to make this off-season and all that remains is looking ahead to training camp & the season and reviewing the recent moves in that context.

1. Steve Montador - this signing was a bit rich for my tastes. For a guy who is joining his 5th team in 5 years (and 6th team in 7 years) and who was making $1.55M per year, his cap hit with the hawks has almost doubled. He's going to be the right defenseman in the hawks' second pairing, however, he is a considerable downgrade from Bryan Campbell, in terms of skating & puck possession. That will be bad news for his likely partner, Nik Hjalmarsson, who will find opposing forwards have more time & space to aggressively forecheck. The $5M savings at this position aren't going to be worth it, and hawks fans who were so down on Campbell because of his contract, will now wish they had #51 back.

2. Chris Campoli - a direct casualty of Bowman's decision to trade for & sign Montador first before locking up the RFA, giving Campoli increased leverage and a big fat comparable in the process. Campoli, while not replacing Campbell's mobility and puck possession, at least possessed the attributes that would have better complemented the hawks transition game than Montador or his subsequent replacement.

3. Sammi Lepisto - a reactionary move, when the Campoli camp decided to use the leverage & comparable that Bowman gift wrapped to them. Nothing more than a filler, who won't be as good as Campoli.

4. Sean O'Donnell - love this guy's character, but at 40 years old, you can't even expect him to provide what he was most noted for when he was in his prime. The only reason I can think of for his signing is to mentor Scott, since both of them won't ever be in the lineup at the same time, given their skating deficiencies. Shane O'Brien would have been the better pickup.

Overall, the defense got slower and less skilled with the loss of Campbell & Campoli and didn't really upgrade the toughness that they clearly needed to add. O'Donnell will try, as will Scott, but these guys will only contribute on a situational basis, and can't be counted on for depth in case of injury to the top 4.

Looking up front.

1. Andrew Brunette - like this guy & like this signing - he's a solid character veteran who is reliable and steady and productive. Versatile as well. Good addition, with minimal risk.

2. Jamal Mayers - like Brunette with Coloarado, Mayers played for Q before in St. Louis, so they both know what to expect from the other. He's a decent 4th line depth addition, with some toughness and enough skill to contribute here & there.

3. Rusty Olesz - a Florida salary dump in the Campbell deal, who surprisingly hasn't been bought out by Bowman. The buyout ratio per CapGeek would be at 1/3 and the total buyout cost at $3,883,333 spread over 6 years, since he is 25. To pay this guy $11.625M over the next 3 years with an annual cap hit of $3.125M to play 3rd or 4th line minutes is very rich indeed.

4. Daniel Carcillo(gen the Cancer) - this is subtraction by addition. A loose cannon who is more about himself and his antics than the team, this was an idiotic signing for a team that had trouble killing penalties last year. He will wear on his teammates (by wearing them down having to cover for his dumb, selfish penalties & plays), and wear on his coaches. Worst of all, he really doesn't add needed toughness, but like Matt Cooke, he'll create a lot of headaches for his coaches, teammates and management.

Signing this guy instead of a true team-first, tough 4th line center who also happens to be decent on face-offs in Zenon Konopka, makes me wonder what in the world is Bowman thinking.

Resigning Stalberg & Frolik were decent moves as the money wasn't outrageous, particularly for players who still have a lot to prove, however, the hawks still have holes that haven't been addressed by Bowman.

The hawks are still thin at center. Bolland has had health issues (back & concussions) that have forced him to miss 62 regular season (& 3 playoff) games the past two seasons. That is almost 40% of the games each regular season. They need him healthy & productive or they'll be in some trouble at center. It is a bit much to expect Kruger to step up into a 3rd line role at this point. Brett Maclean is presumably an option to fill-in, but I'd rather see a guy like McNeill given a shot.

Toughness was lacking up front last year with the loss of Byfuglien, Ladd, Eager, Burish, Fraser and even Versteeg. Bowman not only didn't move to restore some of that lost grit & abrasiveness, he moved Brouwer, who led the hawks forwards in hits, for a draft pick. Mayers helps to provide some of what was lost in Brouwer, but if they think Carcillo will serve to solve their "toughness" problems, they will be sadly mistaken. (And of course, Seabrook & Bolland need to stay away from further concussions).

Injuries to Bryan Bickell & Patrick Kane also need to fully heal by the start of the season for the hawks to get off to a better start if they wish to seriously contend in the west and not have to battle for a remaining playoff spot.

In goal, Crawford seemed set as the #1 when he was signed to a new 3 year deal, however Bowman, has bungled the task of finding the right backup, by apparently going with unproven Salak, who was a starter last year in Sweden, and has yet to play a pro game in North America.

The wise move would have been to add a veteran backup like Ty Conklin for a year (which Detroit eventually did) to support Crawford as the clear #1 in a season where expectations & accompanying pressure will be greater than last year. While Turco was a bust last year, the one positive contribution he made was being the consummate team guy and providing mentorship & veteran support for the emerging Crawford.

Later in the summer, perhaps realizing that it would be preferable to give Salak a year to adjust to North America, Bowman invited Ray Emery to camp. Emery, still young by goalie standards, and who showed he was still capable of being a #1 down the stretch with Anaheim late last season, is going to be plenty motivated to earn a contract & not to be satisfied with that. He is entering his prime (but very limited) earning years. Will Crawford feel established enough at the #1 spot to adjust and handle added competition and perform at the level he did last year when he had minimal expectations and maximum support?

I think these moves (instead of simply adding a veteran like Conklin for a year) unnecessarily & prematurely create added pressure on Crawford as the #1 in goal. Perhaps he'll handle it without a second thought, but by inviting Emery, the hawks might also be inviting Crawford to wonder how much confidence they really have in him. Emery certainly won't be as supportive of Crawford as Turco was last year, and given his history with Ottawa, he might become a disruptive force, especially if he focuses on the personal advancement of his own career more than on doing what helps the team the most.

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